Monday, July 25, 2005

In This You Rejoice

The Scriptures often invite or exhort us to rejoice, but perhaps we don’t feel like rejoicing all the time, having that “What’s good about it?” attitude to someone’s friendly “Good morning!” But if we take a look at the First Letter of Peter, we will see that he’s not asking us to rejoice about any particular morning or any given set of circumstances at all. His sights are set much higher.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1Peter 1:3-4). Immediately he adds, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials…” He’s not asking them to rejoice over the pain of their trials, but to rejoice in the fruit of trials well-borne, the end result of the “testing by fire,” that is, what has been prepared for us in heaven, which is “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

St Peter is inviting us to keep before our eyes the glory of the Kingdom, through a “living hope” in the power of the resurrection of Christ. He knows we have to suffer on earth, but the vision of heaven is what makes the suffering endurable, even embraceable. This was also the intention of St John when he wrote the Book of Revelation. St Paul had a similar idea when he exhorted us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1Thess. 5:18). Note that he didn’t ask us to give thanks for all circumstances, but rather in all circumstances. It’s rather difficult to induce any sane person to become deliriously happy over some tragic disaster, but in the midst of sufferings believers can still look to the reward, the outcome of faith, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Now, our looking to heaven for consolation doesn’t mean that we must view this life as wholly miserable. We still have sacraments and sunsets, music and merlot, creativity and contemplation, and opportunities to give and receive love. But since many tend to feel the sting of suffering more intensely than the gentle joys of walking in the Spirit, it is good that God has placed before us the promise of everlasting delight in the glory of heaven.

So, whatever is troubling you, let it not consume you. Read the first chapter of First Peter, and try out the first chapter of Ephesians while you’re at it. In this you will rejoice.